CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais delivers a statement in Gatineau, Que., Tuesday, May 5, 2015. The big four TV service providers are defending how they rolled out new, trimmed-down TV packages earlier this year, denying in hearings Wednesday that they were being "paternalistic" with customers by placing restrictions on the cheapest of their offerings.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Opinion: Unlocking fees, begone

Praise for the latest CRTC decision

Every once in a while I like to see proof that regulatory agencies in Canada are doing their job properly to protect the interests of the average Canadian consumer.

The recent decision of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to ban unlocking fees on cellphones is exactly the kind of proof I often look for. Henceforth, Canadian wireless providers aren’t allowed to sell devices or charge customers to unlock phones.

The move has been applauded as a way to increase competition between telecom companies vying for people to use their services, and maybe even moderate the prices of the inflated rates we pay to stay connected.

Up to this point, telecommunications companies have had free reign to happily charge gratuitous fees to “unlock” mobile phones, and allow consumers to – brace yourselves, for this is a doozy – use their phones with another company!

(Cue: gasps of shock.) What a crazy demand, right? Customers wanting freedom of choice, and not having to spend half the price of a week’s worth of groceries to be able to exercise that choice – world’s gone mad, I tell ya.

All heavy-handed sarcasm aside, it’s no secret Canada is notorious for being home to some of the most unreasonable mobile plans in the world.

All sorts of studies, including one carried out last year by Nordicity Group, all indicate that compared to other G7 countries and Australia, Canadians pay some of the highest rates for wireless service, full stop.

For a more specific example, the average entry level wireless package (i.e. the austere Spartan variey of mobile that almost nobody uses, on account of what little it genuinely provides a person in the way of service) is about $41.08 in Canada. In Germany, the cheapest plan a person can get runs an amount of money that would be about $17.15 in Canadian currency.

Last year, wireless carriers pulled in a whopping $37.7 million through the imposition of unlocking fees, alone. Cutting out the extortionate amount of money telecom companies were able to pull in though the imposition of unlocking fees was barely the cherry on top of the $22.5 billion metaphorical ice cream sundae in revenues telecom companies pull in every year, in Canada.

Anything – and I mean anything – done to set aright the absolute stranglehold those giant, rich telecom companies have on our finances is a step in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned.

To be even more frank, I think we have to start talking about taking more than that metaphorical cherry on top away from telecom giants. I think far stricter regulations should be put in place. To stay in tune with my own metaphor, we have to start looking at some of the layers of whipped cream and caramel drizzle on that sundae, too.

To illustrate my point, I’ll use the example of wireless service with a telecom company whose services I unwisely availed myself of a few years ago, the name of which I will not mention out of what little courtesy I feel I need to exercise when discussing that company.

What amounted to every couple of months, my mobile bills would come in the mail with absurd sums of money added them – bills I was promised would stay the same, every month.

The result was a surfeit of unexpected surcharges and fees I took pains to avoid, using judiciously small amounts of my allotted data and minutes – all to no avail.

These “surprise fees” were never very honestly or thoroughly explained, usually premised on “improvements” to my services, which to my knowledge, never manifested. The company also claimed to have given me ample notice of those impending changes – that was nowhere to be found.

What was the point of those mystery-fees? What mandated them, beyond an acquisitive urge?

That’s the kind of crap the CRTC should be clamping down on. Discouraging that…and those sketchy last-minute deals and sales pitches they give you, when you call up a company to tell them you’re shutting down your phone with them, at the end of a contract – deals that only materialize when telecom giants are worried they’re going to lose business.

The CRTC ought to continue to push for a competitive market – especially while Brad Wall, the premier of the last province with a reasonably competitive wireless market continues with that sad pageantry of pretending to not want to sell SaskTel (and demolish the one last bastion of market competition in wireless service in Canada.) He only wants to sell part of it, after all.

So, all in all, more power to the CRTC for putting the needs of the average Canadian Joes and Janes ahead of monstrous telecom companies which far too often, treat their customers like means to an end.

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